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September 17, 2008

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Alex Khatchaturian

You wrote in your column: "Unfortunately, not enough people have confidence in the general theory to take it on faith that all these government initiatives will play out badly."

It isn't the absence of confidence in free markets that contributes to over-regulation by government. We know markets work! I doubt the existence of bona-fide disagreement on this matter.

Instead, over-regulation is a consequence of the organized pressure put on by rent-seeking special interest groups that would rather appropriate the wealth produced by others than compete in free markets.

David11

I subscribe to Forbes already and am glad to hear Mr. Epstein's impressive intellect will get another forum.

I recently read his 'Simple Rules for a Complex World' which re-kindled a desire for scaling back the gov't. Working on the Hill, I often witness politicians who truly believe they are doing the 'right thing' in attempting to right every wrong -- even though the massive resources devoted to solving problems rarely yields results.

Unfortunately, the inevitable failure of most laws to achieve their intended purpose only becomes a pretext for passing more laws. Lacking a true measure of success, the de facto measure of success becomes the increase in spending you were able to achieve over the previous year.

The expansive role of government today is as much the result of a philosophical view of gov't as it is the fault of rent seekers and K Street. In fact, K Street can often play a role in preventing passage of bad laws. The answer and challenge is to educate people about the limits of what government can accomplish. This is difficult because it often opens one up to charges of being heartless or mean-spirited.

The average person must somehow come to realize that our high standard of living is the result of a largely free and competitive society and not the result of invasive laws passed by politicians with good intentions. I think economics can play a big role in providing this education as economics generally tends to focus more on reason and logic than passion. As an example, the podcast 'EconTalk' authored by a George Mason University professor does a good job of laying out economic scenarios in way that the average person can follow (see econtalk.org).

LAK

It puzzles me why people think the outcomes of the "free" market are necessarily more efficient than regulated ones. I mean I get the idealized theory, but it is so far removed from the reality of real human decision making I find it almost strange people continue to subscribe to it. There will always be rules governing the exchange of goods and service, and there will always be any number of possible outcomes for any given system or game, especially very complex games like the economy.

Given the recent events that show even our most sophisticated institutions can behave like complete blundering idiots( AIG insuring mortgage based securities that all gain and lose value in concert together without adequate capital?), it casues me to conclude most libertarians are delusional alienated nerds who live in a world oftheortical abstraction, completely divorced from reality. Epstein needs to get himself to the philosophy department and study the contingency of human identity and value structures. Millions of teenaged girls certainly don't like Hanna Montana on account of their own informed autonymous decisionmaking. Millions of women don't bleach their hair blond because they arrived at that aesthetic choice out of some exercise of personal freedom.
And the government doesn't allow the flow of capital to dry up when the major pools of capital f themselves by particiapting in a house of cards fueld by fees in the financial sector. 35 year old lawyers don't buy variable annuities out of informed decision making.

But I understand in a world of capitalist alienation how people would cling to the delusion that they are free rational actors, given the existential fright of recognizing one's contingency and the fact that we are all part of a single species in which we all depend on each other for survival and the very substance of our own identites.

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